Barack Obama has become the first US president to be the guest of honour at India’s annual Republic Day parade, a colourful display of the South Asian nation’s military might and cultural diversity in the heart of the capital, New Delhi.
Despite intermittent rain, large crowds flocked to see the show on Monday morning and catch a glimpse of the US president and his hosts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee.
“I’m honoured to be the first American president to attend this celebration, as well as the first president to visit India twice,” Obama said.
The invitation to the annual celebration is one of the biggest honours the country can bestow on a foreign leader and underscores the growing closeness between Obama and Modi.
The parade celebrates the adoption, in 1950, of the Indian constitution – the day that India became a republic – three years after gaining independence from Britain.
Speaking at the ceremony, Mukherjee gave a stern assessment of India 65 years after it declared itself a republic, criticising parliamentary dysfunction and the overuse of decrees.
India’s largely ceremonial president was also critical of violence against women in India.
Mukherjee said the opposition should debate laws responsibly rather than disrupting the houses of parliament, and cautioned Modi’s government against governing by decree.
He was referring to 10 “ordinances” issued by Modi, including ones to raise the foreign investment limit in insurance, auction coal mines, and ease land acquisitions.
Modi issued most of the decrees after opposition parties prevented parliament from functioning in protest against comments made by members of the ruling party against religious minorities.
Mukherjee’s message might be of interest to Obama, who was in town as chief guest for the 66th Republic Day celebrations.
At home, Obama has sidestepped a fractious Congress by issuing executive orders.
Mukherjee said there can be “no governance without a functioning legislature”.
On Sunday, Obama and Modi announced a breakthrough on an agreement to provide civilian nuclear technology to India that was signed in 2008 but had been held up by US concerns over liability in the event of a nuclear accident.
They also extended a defence pact and agreed to enhance cooperation on climate change. But the focus was on the warming of relations after a tense diplomatic row in late 2013, rather than specific policy announcements.